Corunna Downs, WA
The remote Corunna Downs Airbase in Western Australia’s Pilbara offers a fascinating slice of World War II history set among spectacular scenery.
It was one of the best kept secrets of World War II. Hundreds of raids that aided the allied war effort in Indonesia and Borneo were launched from it. The Japanese repeatedly tried and failed to locate it.
The airfield is quite extensive, comprising two main runways, 20 aircraft revetments and several kilometres of taxi-ways. In its day, it also boasted an administration building, hospital, recreation hut, kitchen and an open air theatre. Although the buildings have all been removed, there are a large number of concrete plinths, supply dumps and earthworks remaining.
The many aircraft revetments are still easy to pick out, and if you search carefully you can find the tie-down points that are still concreted into the ground.
The crews who manned these bombers faced an arduous 12-hour return flight for each mission. Their objective was the Japanese-occupied islands of the Indonesian archipelago far to the north. They also engaged enemy ships involved with transporting supplies and moving troops between the islands. They carried out hundreds of raids that significantly hindered the Japanese war effort.
Marble Bar was named after a local deposit of mineral that looked very much like marble. This ‘marble bar’ can actually be found about 4km out of town at Marble Bar Pool on the Coongan River. This, and the nearby Chinaman’s Pool, both make a nice spot to stop for a cuppa. Keep an eye out for the amorous budgerigars in the old gum trees at Chinaman’s Pool.
It was later found that the marble bar wasn’t actually marble but rather jasper (a highly coloured cryptocrystalline variety of quartz). A splash of water brings out the marble colouring of the jasper quartz rock. So it’s easy to see how those early explorers were deceived. Taking a sample from the bar as a memento is prohibited and attracts a $10,000 fine. However, you are welcome to souvenir your very own piece of ‘marble’ from a jasper deposit 4km out of town on the way to the old Comet Gold Mine, which was the next stop on our agenda.
COMET GOLD MINE
The Comet Gold Mine, located 7.5km from town via the Hillside-Marble Bar Road, is now a museum and tourist centre with a diversity of gemstones, jewellery, rocks, minerals and local history on display. A visit is really worthwhile as they also provide useful background information on the Corunna Downs Airbase, with displays of maps, old photos and descriptions of the installations. There is also a small book that can be purchased. They are open every day from 9am-4pm.
Starting from the Iron Clad Hotel, head east on Francis Street, then turn right onto Corunna Downs Road. Take the Corunna Downs Road (also called Salgash Road) south from Marble Bar for about 30km until a turn-off on the right, marked by an oil drum, about 500m past the Camel Creek Crossing. Follow this track for about 750m and turn left, just over another small creek. It’s then a further 6km along a fairly straight track to the airfield. If you miss the first turn you will end up at Corunna Downs Homestead.
The tracks are dry weather roads and are theoretically navigable by 2WD vehicles, although 4WDs are preferable.
Marble Bar Holiday Park, Contest Street, Marble Bar. The park offers shady grassed powered and unpowered sites for campers and caravans, with ablutions, laundry facilities and campers kitchen. Dogs are welcome.
Nullagine Caravan Park, Gallop Street, Nullagine. The park features backpackers accommodation, kiosk, BBQ area, STD phone, wheelchair access, campers kitchen, large sites for RV’s and more. Dogs are allowed at manager’s discretion.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #533 January 2015. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!